HL Deb 26 February 1998 vol 586 cc792-4

3.17 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the answers given by the Lord Privy Seal on 27th January (HL Deb, cols. 97–101), whether they will publish the minutes of meetings of the Ministerial Sub-Committee on House of Lords Reform (CRP (HL)).

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

No. my Lords. As a former Minister of the Crown, the noble Lord will be well aware that the proceedings of Cabinet committees have always been and remain confidential. To do otherwise would inhibit frank discussion and effective decision-making, and undermine collective responsibility.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, although I find it hard to see why the "top secret" label should be attached to those minutes. Can the noble Lord tell us when we can expect from the Government, a clear statement of principle on how the House of Lords should be composed and what its powers should be"? I quote precisely the words used by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his interview in the New Statesman on 8th February. Can the noble Lord use his influence to ensure that a general statement is added on how the Government see their pieces of constitutional reform being put together, as otherwise surely we are in danger of examining this very important matter brick by brick without any idea of what the final building will look like?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, there will be full public consultation in the widest sense when the sub-committee has completed its procedures. As and when that will be is a matter for the sub-committee, and it has not yet been determined. As to the issue of whether our constitutional reform proposals will be seen as a whole, they already have been seen as a whole—in our election manifesto.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to full public consultation, but most noble Lords are concerned that there should be adequate opportunities to discuss the matter in this House. Will the noble Lord confirm that it is still the Government's intention to introduce a Bill in the next Session? If that is the case, will the noble Lord ensure that between now and the end of this Session there is a full debate in this House, not only on the general principles, but also on the specific proposals that might be embodied in legislation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as a former Minister of the Crown the noble Lord will understand that I cannot anticipate the contents of the next Queen's Speech. As to the matter of full discussion in this House, that is for the usual channels, but I am sure that they will look sympathetically on the idea of a full discussion once the recommendations of the sub-committee have been made public.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, we on this side of the House are grateful for the noble Lord's last reply. We very much look forward to a constructive discussion through the usual channels to see whether the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, which I also expressed some weeks ago in your Lordships' House, can be fulfilled. First, will the noble Lord consider yet again whether such a debate, which I believe to be generally desired in all quarters of your Lordships' House at the moment, can be satisfied by the provision of government time? Secondly, will the noble Lord reinforce the sympathy with which he greeted the supplementary question of my noble friend Lord Renton by recognising that since we are dealing with the future of one of the two Houses of Parliament and the relationship of the two Houses is necessarily complementary it will be extremely useful for this House and the general public to have an extended debate on the matter? Will the Government at least publish some options if not clear conclusions of what they have in mind in good time for that debate to take place before everyone goes away on their summer holidays?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal appreciates the force of what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition and that he will wish to discuss it personally with him on his return from duties abroad. As to the nature of the full debate which will be necessary in due course, I am sure that my noble friend will pay great attention to what has just been said. We very much appreciate the shift in attitude that has been evident in the Conservative Party. In particular we agree with the six principles of reform that the Leader of the Opposition in another place, Mr. William Hague, set out in his article in the Sunday Express at the weekend.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, provided the appropriate carrots and sticks are put in place, any proposed changes or reforms to the House of Lords should emerge from the House of Lords, just as is to happen with local authorities?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend. The composition of the House of Lords is a matter for Parliament and the people as a whole rather than Members of this House.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, is there any truth in the rumour that consideration is being given to retiring Life Peers at the age of 75? If so, will I have a case for an action for damages having been assured that I would be able to stay here till death us do part?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord paraphrases his Writ of Summons. In answering a comparable question, my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal withdrew from any commitment on this issue.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the guidance he has proffered—that one should look to the party manifesto to understand the intentions of the Government—will not be treated with wholehearted rapture?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is true that there is no provision in legislation for party manifestos to have universal assent. But it was the noble Lord's own party which introduced the Salisbury convention by which, at least in this House, party manifestos have some effect.

The Earl of Haisbury

My Lords, surely it is wrong to play hopscotch in this matter. Political parties are here today and gone tomorrow. The Government become the Opposition and the Opposition become the Government in due course. Should we not have a proper intellectual appreciation of the problems of constitutional government by a Royal Commission?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am fascinated by the remarks of the noble Earl. I remind him that this issue is not Johnnie-come-lately as it was in the preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act, in which it was acknowledged that reform of the House of Lords was necessary and it would involve the removal of the hereditary peerage.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, we who sit on these Benches have listened with interest to what has been said. Can we be assured that we shall be included in these discussions?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, of course.